The question’s been asked for nearly a year now – when will someone be held accountable for lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water?
Now three people are being charged with crimes. The two state water quality experts and Flint’s water quality supervisor are accused of misconduct, neglect of duty, and falsifying the results of tests to hide the fact the city’s drinking water was contaminated.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says these were public officials who had a responsibility to ensure clean and safe drinking water.
“They failed,” said Schuette. “They failed to discharge their duties. They failed. They failed in their responsibilities to protect the health and safety of the citizens of families Flint. They failed Michigan families. Indeed, they failed us all. I don’t care where you live.”
The two state water experts charged are Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby, both with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The charges say they misled US Environmental Protection Agency officials who questioned whether Flint’s water was safe to drink. The charges also say they gamed the water testing protocols.
The other person charged is Flint water quality supervisor Michael Glasgow, who actually tried to warn higher-ups in 2014 that the city’s water plant wasn’t ready to switch from using Detroit’s water system to tapping the Flint River for drinking water. That decision was carried out by state-appointed emergency managers as a cost-saving measure and, ultimately, had catastrophic results. A standard water treatment process was ignored, causing lead from old pipes to leach into the drinking water.
Special assistant attorney General Todd Flood says even if that Glasgow was acting on instructions from his superiors, he’s not immune to criminal charges.
“You can’t be told to do something that’s wrong and do it, knowing that it’s wrong,” said Flood.
Glasgow faces the least serious charges among those filed, and officials aren’t ruling out plea deals in their effort to find others who are culpable.
Schuette is quick to say this investigation is continuing.
“These charges are only the beginning,” he said. “There will be more to come. I guarantee it.”
But what’s left unsaid who else might be charged or what direction the investigation will take next. In addition, there are separate federal and county investigations underway.
Flint resident Aaron Dunigan showed up outside this afternoon’s press conference announcing the charges. Dunigan says he’s not impressed. He’s still waiting to see how high up the investigation goes.
“They’re letting lower people take those charges. Now they did say more charges would be brought for people, but only time will tell who that really means, but until Governor Snyder is charged, I don’t think justice is truly being served.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by others here, in part because it was Governor Rick Snyder who put the city under emergency management. The investigators did not say when, or if, the governor will be part of their inquiry.
But Snyder insists he’s not the one who messed things up.
“This tragic situation was the result of bad decisions by bureaucrats,” he said. “…I’ve always described it in the context of people lacking common sense. This puts in the context of criminal behavior.”
Snyder says he has yet to be interviewed by investigators, who won’t say whether he’s on their list. He has hired – at taxpayer expense – an $800,000-a-year legal team to try to fend off any criminal charges.
Schuette might appreciate that precedent because he wants to run for governor in two years.